Most of us are aware of the subtle differences in how each of us learns information, both in the classroom, and on the job or in the field. There are some commonalities in how memory works, for example remembering the first and last items in a list, or having an easier time digesting numbers in groups (it’s usually easier to remember 483 than 4, 8, and 3). But that being said, there are also distinct differences in our strengths and weaknesses. Some people truly do learn better listening to a lecture than reading a book, while others will get the most out of classes where slides and diagrams are used. Some of us like to organize our information in bullet point lists, while others need a single mnemonic to memorize an entire paragraph. But when it comes to language learning, study suggestions are so often the same; vocabulary flash cards in particular come to mind. Don’t get me wrong, flash cards are great, and sometimes they can turn rote memorization into a more streamlined process. But given how many different ways we all prefer to intake information, it’s not a bad idea to collect different techniques and tools.
Because there is such an enormous hearing component to learning a language, most college and high school level teachers will include a listening portion to the homework. One thing that some students may find helpful is downloading these mp3 audio files into something that can be listened to on the go. Sitting and staring at a laptop trying to go down a list of audio files one after another can be tedious, but if they’re clips that can be listened to more than once while on the move, this can help through repetition and movement to let the pronunciation and vocabulary sink in. Another possible tactic some language learners swear by is watching foreign language films. This is more helpful once you’ve picked up enough vocabulary to get the gist of what’s being said, and can be great for starting to hear slang, and working on pronunciation. It’s also a great way to take a somewhat guilt free break from studying if you’re burnt out, but still want to feel that you’re doing something useful.
Many professors will assign homework assignments or language learning packets that have visual components, for example pictures of different sports equipment, and then you’re responsible for labeling these images appropriately in French, Spanish, etc. The reason for this is that you’re trying to connect visual queues with the language as well as auditory; it’s just another way to try to cement this new way of thinking. Going a step further with this can be refreshing and cut down on boredom. Most of us have heard of someone labeling different items in their home in another language to try to learn a language. But that same idea can be applied in a quiz-like style to so many activities. Shopping for groceries can be an exercise in naming as many things in an aisle as you can in another language. If you can’t remember the French word for sugar, you lose a point, but if you know the word for napkin, you gain one. The more willing you are to exercise these skills and try to make it fun in the real world, the better off you’ll be.
Finally, when it comes to grammar, don’t be afraid to backtrack in your native language. So much of grammar is differentiating how different components function in each language, where the rules differ or are the same. But if you don’t have a strong background in grammar from your early education days – as I personally did not – then it can be very difficult to comprehend how certain types of words usually function, and then remember how they are changed in the new language you are learning. Sometimes it can feel frustrating to have to relearn something in English in order to learn it in another language, but it usually will make your life considerably easier in the long run when sentence structure gets more complex.
Ultimately, learning a language is going to be a challenge no matter what. But trying out different spins on audio, visual, and grammatical norms for memorization can help to cut back on the monotony, and pinpoint where your personal preferences lie when it comes to learning.